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The six best quotes from the inaugural Future of Media & Publishing meetup in Berlin

Earlier this month, Bibblio went to the German capital to launch the Future of Media & Publishing series (that's city number 3!). At these meetups we're bringing together professionals who work in publishing, online media and media-tech to discuss the best ways forward in the world of content. The team at WeWork Ku'damm hosted us on a warm summer evening.

Future of Media & Publishing Berlin

The presenters for the evening were Grace Dobush (a freelance journalist) and Tom Clark (VP/Director, Publishing & Product at De Gruyter). The moderator for the panel, on how to acquire and grow new audiences, was Mads Holmen (Co-founder and CEO of Bibblio). Contributing to the panel were Brian O'Connor (Founder and Partner at rethink), Lin Hierse (journalist, urbanist and Social Media Editor at taz, die Tageszeitung and Sinonerds), Sven Fund (Managing Director at fullstopp and Knowledge Unlatched) and Christin Martens (content strategy & digital storytelling consultant). MC for the evening was Daniel Young (consultant, designer, and contract chief product officer).

Below you'll find the remarks by the contributors that impressed me the most. Plus, I've added the links to the presentations by Grace and Tom too.

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#1 "The secret is to treat people like people and give more than you get" - Grace Dobush


Shine Theory

In 2013, Ann Friedman wrote a piece about the Shine Theory in The Cut. The theory's simple premise is that "I don't shine if you don't shine." It's a term Ann coined with Aminatou Sow to describe a commitment to collaborating with rather than competing against other people—especially other women.

Grace Dobush

Grace's explanation about how The Shine Theory has impacted how she networks, and inspires others to do the same, was my personal highlight of her talk. In a period where the model of publishers banding together to counter the dominance of the duopoly is finding more and more favour, improving your networking skills seems on point.

If you're doing networking right, it's fun, said Grace:

"It's like meeting up with a co-worker who you don't hate. Never tear someone down or avoid supposedly more successful people than you - when they shine, you shine."

Find out more See Grace's slides for the visuals she used in her talk

#2 "There are great people, but too few." - Christin Martens

Earlier this year, Reuters Institute interviewed editors, reporters, and commercial directors of publishers across Europe. A key challenge mentioned by the interviewees was "retaining and attracting of new talent." A month later, DigiDay did a study of their own, this time focused on bringing media-buying talent into publishing businesses, and they concluded that acquiring talent is the biggest challenge the European companies which they surveyed face.

During this evening's panel, Mads asked Christin what her biggest challenge was when launching Business Insider Germany back in 2015. She didn't have to think about it at all. "Hiring talent", she said without hesitation.

When Christin was Editor-in-Chief of Business Insider Germany, she was - among other things - tasked to hire a team of writers for the new platform. She found this was the biggest challenge: 

"Hiring talent is a huge problem in the publishing space. This doesn't mean there are no great people out there, but talent is sparse."

Do you recognize this as a major struggle at your organisation too? Let us know how you deal with this.

#3 "The industry changed forever when Michael Jackson died and the Arab Spring came - that's when readers became reporters." - Brian O'Connor

On the 25th of June, 2009, Michael Jackson died. The King of Pop's death triggered reactions around the world, creating unprecedented surges of Internet traffic. The news spread quickly online, causing websites to slow down and crash from user overload. TMZ and the Los Angeles Times suffered outages. Google initially believed that the millions of search requests for Michael Jackson meant their search engine was under DDoS attack. Twitter reported a crash, as did Wikipedia. AOL called it a seminal moment in internet history. They've never seen anything like it in terms of scope or depth.

Just over a year later, the Arab Spring began with the Tunisian Revolution. In the wake of the Arab Spring protests, a considerable amount of attention has been focused on the role of social media and digital technologies in allowing citizens within areas affected by 'the Arab Uprisings' as a means for collective activism to circumvent state-operated media channels. The use of social media platforms more than doubled in Arab countries during the protests, and a study by the University of North Carolina and the UN Development Program concluded that:

"Social media provided new sources of information the regime could not easily control and were crucial in shaping how citizens made individual decisions about participating in protests, the logistics of protest, and the likelihood of success."

In response to Mads's question about what 'more traditional' media businesses could learn from new publishing platforms, Brian described working at Die Welt during the death of Jackson and the Arab Revolutions:

"We were clever then and started up a 'news market place', so our audience could dictate the message and tell us what to report and investigate. I haven't seen many big players in Germany do it properly yet. They are more comfortable with buying other media outlets that don't reach new audiences instead of investing in connecting more directly to their audiences."

How do you connect to your readers or members? Do you use social media or other channels to have them share stories or angles with you - or is this a change you don't support?

#4 "Academic publishing understood early on how to make money in digital - as opposed to news media." - Sven Fund

Last year, Stephen Buranyi wrote an insightful long-read on the "staggeringly profitable business" of scientific publishing. In the piece, Stephen explains that in order to make money, a traditional publisher – say, a magazine – first has to cover a multitude of costs: it pays writers for the articles; it employs editors to commission, shape and check the articles; and it pays to distribute the finished product to subscribers, retailers or platforms such as Facebook. All of this is expensive, and successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%.

The way to make money from a scientific article looks very similar, except that scientific publishers manage to duck most of the actual costs. Scientists create work under their own direction – funded largely by governments – and give it to publishers for free; the publisher pays scientific editors who judge whether the work is worth publishing and check its grammar, but the bulk of the editorial burden – checking the scientific validity and evaluating the experiments, a process known as peer review, is done by working scientists on a volunteer basis. The publishers then sell the product back to government-funded institutional and university libraries to be read by scientists, who, in a collective sense, created the product in the first place. Sven explains what this means for the margins:

"For example Elsevier, the market leader in research publishing, has margins of 40%. Academic publishing is obviously a different world to many others. 'Audience development' is not about a mass of people, but about relevance. It's a continuous challenge for the publishers to help researchers target and reach their peers efficiently and effectively."

Sven sees that academic publishing has many areas in which they can improve working for their audiences:

"Academic publishing has been really good at creating products, but really bad at understanding the customer's readers. Many publishers have forgotten that behind these 7,500 academic libraries in the world there are 250 million people in research - or in industry that does research. When I ask publishing houses how their readers behave, who they are and where they are, I don't get a clear answer. So the first attempts at getting a grasp on this, through the use of social media for example, are kicking off."

#5 "We need to start taking influencers seriously - we have been underestimating them for quite a while now." - Lin Hierse

Publishers are using influencer marketing to bolster branded content programs or stand alone offerings, including consumer research. Earlier this year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau published a guide after their working group spoke to member publishers. They identified four key ways influencer marketing is moving the dial for publishers: 1) content creation/curation, 2) content credibility, 3) content amplification and 4) content as an extension of a publisher's thought leadership.

Lin emphasized the importance of utilizing influencer marketing for all publishers - established and new. Influencers and the content they can help you create have come a long way too:

"The audience is getting smarter. They don't accept shallow and rather baffling attempts to push brands anymore. We've come a long way since the first trashy videos. People talk about influencers in a way they used to talk about bloggers. Newsrooms should start being more open minded towards these kinds of new formats."

Do you get influencers involved in spreading your story? Are you or your journalist colleagues setting out to be more of an influencer?

#6 "We're now very tolerant of failure - in the winning, experimental sort of way" - Tom Clark

Tom Clark

The evening's final talk by Tom was about thinking creatively about the future of publishing, with an especial focus on new product development. He spoke about the importance of the agile method - a particular project management approach that uses incremental, iterative work sequences:

"Business models tend to follow a waterfall approach - this usually means you invest far too much in something that's probably not going to stick in this fast-changing world. De Gruyter is trying to work in a more agile way to be able to launch more products and see what sticks."

Tom Cheesewright
One of the quotes showcased in Tom's presentation.

To my delight, Tom emphasized the value collaborations with startups bring in making better products for end-users:

"The startups are the one who are coming in and applying different metrics, slicing and dicing communties and selling those services back to the Luddites that our industry can be. We're partnering increasingly with startups."

Find out more See Tom's slides for more great quotes and how De Gruyter is working on user adaption


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